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No longer silent: The empowerment of women in the Gospels

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By Fran Salone-Pelletier, Religion Columnist

When I was asked to read Susan Dehn Matthews book, “No Longer Silent: The Empowerment of Women in the Gospels,” I had no idea I would be embarking on a journey with a visionary and prophet. The trip is wild and wonderful, for those who wish to expand their comprehension of Scriptural vignettes beyond a literal translation and beyond a “reasonable” one.
It is equally exciting for anyone who desires to reach a new understanding of women in Scripture, one that is demanding of personal growth. In each of the 34 presentations, Matthews leads the reader into a new and different understanding of the events she depicts and the participants whose lives are changed as a result of their responses to the divine call discovered in each unique situation.
Confining herself to selected women in the Gospels, Matthews has done a yeoman’s work. She has achieved her goal as defined in the Afterword of the book. Through their encounters with Jesus in various roles, the women became more fully the persons God desired them to be. What is more important, “Each woman is an expression of some part of us as individuals.” To paraphrase Matthews, the increase of our awareness of the Divine energy suffusing all creation will permit the stories in the book to become complete.
From conception to crucifixion, Jesus of Nazareth becomes real as prophet, storyteller, teacher, healer and Messiah within the feminine experience of life. This book is a tale of spiritual midwifery that relates specifically to women, but can easily be broadened to include the masculine understanding as well.
It is the saga of humanity seeking freedom and justice, finding pain and passion while increasing one’s capacity to love. It speaks of rejection and resentment, acceptance and understanding...all within the human experience. It is a tribute to the Hebrew cry: “L’Chaim, to life!”
Especially intriguing were the selections from Scripture that did not identify gender, as in the centurion’s slave and the couple traveling on the road to Emmaus. Matthews chooses to see them as women, thus giving a fresh aspect to the stories. She views the Martha/Mary story from the perspective of one who has a difficult time understanding another’s choice of lifestyle. In so doing, she comes to a nuanced conclusion regarding Jesus’ apparent admonishment regarding Martha’s angst over Mary’s option for the better part of life.
Matthews sees both women as blessed by Jesus’ words.
Matthews’ work gives credence to the feminine viewpoint as one that is born of doubt, fear, profound questioning and an uncanny ability to probe until the truth is revealed and transformation can begin.
I was impressed when I read the questions posed for individual reflection or discussion within a group. They probe personal consciousness and elicit awareness of individual gifts, graces, faults and failures. Moreover, the queries open both heart and mind to possibilities that may not have otherwise occurred. Major areas of life are explored: faith, hope, losses and recoveries. They expose human limitations and tendencies toward possessiveness, as well as expansiveness.
This book is one to be read slowly, taken seriously and used as a chance to open one’s heart and mind to the deeper messages contained in familiar Scripture passages we may take for granted. Again, paraphrasing Matthews, men and women often approach life from different directions, owing to the diversity of gifts God has bestowed on them. It is crucial we respect the freedom of choice we possess and guard against limitations whether they are matriarchal, patriarchal, societal or denominational. Only then will we assist in human empowerment by the Divine.
Reading this text heightened my desire to seek a group that would explore the stories, respond to the excellent questions that follow each vignette, and thus deepen life in God. An experienced facilitator could easily incorporate men in the study without diminishing the feminine contribution and, I believe, enhancing it.
While appreciating the need to note the empowerment of women in the Gospels, and thus to be empowered as women of the Gospel, it is good to allow men to understand a viewpoint that might not be theirs at the outset. Similarly, it would be a fine opportunity for literalists to broaden, no pun intended, their viewpoint.
Matthews heeded the Lucan command and did it well. “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives” [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. Reach her at grammistfran@gmail.com.